How do we know if a community is truly smart?
When I’m speaking with clients, they often point to the same end outcomes: widespread digital access, seamless urban mobility, sustainable living, smart health monitoring, intelligent waste management, as well as quality education.
These long-term promises of smart communities are what make them appealing. Huge economic and social benefits can unlock a region’s potential. For instance, a recent study estimates that Sunderland in the United Kingdom would realize £441m (estimated $506 million) in productivity and innovation gains; £97m (estimated $111 million) from an extended workforce; £30m (estimated $34.4 million) in local authority efficiency savings; and £226 (estimated $259 million) in increased housing value, from its investments in fiber optic cables.
This is just one example—as more smart city projects take shape, I am confident that we will see more precincts report improved results that we have not thought of. There is, therefore, little surprise that Frost and Sullivan forecasts that spending on smart city technology is expected to reach $327 billion by 2025.
While many governments and businesses are keeping their eye on the prize, the reality is that many still face issues with their connectivity infrastructure. Instead of chasing after the newest innovation, organizations need to first address network infrastructure issues in order to build a solid foundation that can support smart communities into the future.
Here’s how they can do it.
1. Get the fundamentals right with robust networks.
Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and the metaverse—are all technologies that have increasingly gained attention in organizations’ boardrooms. What is worth noting is that the technology that underpins the success of these innovations is high-speed data networks, which are increasingly being built as a neutral host—a type of shared infrastructure model.
In a recent study commissioned by BAI Communications (BAI), organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom agree that distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells are key to improving connectivity across different locations. Shared infrastructure solutions offer significant benefits, such as enabling connectivity in areas with limited space and lowering costs.
Transport authorities, for example, are increasingly opting to work with neutral host providers. One example of this is a metropolitan authority that wanted to modernize the New York underground subway and provide mobile connectivity for passengers, as well as communications updates. It worked with BAI to deploy cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity, and since 2019, more than 364 million calls and 75 million Wi-Fi logins have been supported.
2. Consider the economic costs.
Robust networks are the building blocks that enable smart applications based on data aggregated from IoT devices and analytics platforms. Yet, insufficient funding is a problem faced by 86% of organizations when upgrading their networks, according to the research we commissioned. In addition, many are saying that they prefer a “wait and leap” approach and currently use older technology for longer periods before upgrading multiple generations at once.
However, with this strategy, organizations still need to deal with maintaining older networks which comes with its own set of challenges and costs. Businesses are also likely to find themselves lagging when it comes to the availability of technology. Mobile network operators (MNOs), too, face challenges with affordability. Many are investing in 5G infrastructure, and there are always places that cannot be accessed or do not make financial sense.
That is why a neutral host model is crucial, especially in highly dense environments like underground tunnels. Instead of setting up separate networks, shared infrastructure provides quality coverage in terms of reach and presence, solves financial challenges and is often more sustainable for these complex environments.
3. Engage private-public partnerships.
Building smart communities can sometimes become large-scale and long-term projects. The good news is that enterprise contributions to smart community development are already taking place. Private-public partnerships are key to addressing the many challenges faced when making smart, transformative communities a reality.
Take, for instance, the 20-year partnership between one city council and BAI. This collaboration that is currently underway will see the two working closely to design, build and operate a next-generation digital infrastructure network built on a neutral host model. The deployment of new high-speed 5G coverage will bring to life the results we envisioned: business growth and innovation, improved education capabilities for students and digital infrastructure to support research and teaching, the creation of jobs, smart monitoring of environments and digital inclusion.
While many of the outcomes we desire from smart communities might take years of work behind the scenes, they are well worth the investment and effort. Many recognize the value of connecting communities. As society becomes increasingly intertwined, modern cities need to continue to create a robust ecosystem of networks, sensors and devices.